fMRI and Program Comprehension

Toward Measuring Program Comprehension with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging


In cognitive neuroscience, fMRI is an often used technqiue to visualize internal cognitive processes. We set out to evaluate whether we can use fMRI to measure program comprehension. To this end, we conducted two pilot studies to select suitable material.

Our paper about the study at the International Conference on Software Engineering


All tasks we used can be downloaded here

Tasks for session in scanner. First comprehension task, followed by syntax task in same row:

Comprehension taskSyntax task
FactorialDecimal to binary
Check if substring is containedCross sum
Find largest in list of numbersReverse array
Reverse stringCheck if substring is contained
SwapFind largest of three numbers
PowerReverse string
Reverse arraySwap
Cross sumMedian
Find largest of three numbersPower
Count same chars in two stringsFind largest of three numbers
Decimal to binaryCount same chars in two strings

First Pilot Study

The results of the first pilot study, that is, response times and correctness, are available here

Second Pilot Study

The results of the second pilot study, that is, response times and correctness, are available here

Session in Scanner

Answer of the participants after the session in the scanner, including their programming experience.
Answers (csv)

Confounding parameters and how we managed them (Framework for Measuring Program Comprehension for more details).
Confounding parameters (pdf)


Responsible for this project and web site: Janet Siegmund